Friday will mark the second (or third, depending on who you talk to) “first ever” Critical Mass bike ride through downtown Little Rock. Critical Mass is a nationwide organization whose self-proclaimed goal is to “assert cyclists’ right to the road.” The group has staged massive rides, sometimes thousands strong, in cities all across the world to remind motorists that bikers are road-users, too. Past events in Little Rock have had limited attendance, usually rallying only a few cyclists to the cause, but organizers hope this Friday will be different.
CJ, who’ll only give a pseudonym, is one of the organizers of the leaderless organization. He says the event is a chance to protest, but also a time for bikers to come together.
“The basic idea is to promote alternate forms of transportation, to get people out of their cars, to encourage people to get together and ride their bike to work — even if it’s just one day a month. A lot of people are concerned that it’s dangerous to ride a bike, and in some places it is, but if you’re in a group, it’s really safe. Plus, it’s just a good way to travel.”
Although Critical Mass has drawn criticism in the past for antagonizing motorists, running red lights and blocking intersections, the organizers have stressed that this will be a law-abiding ride.
“It’s not about anarchy on the streets and causing mayhem,” CJ says. “It’s to promote bike awareness and the fact that we need more bike routes. There’s been a lot of money spent downtown, but there’s no real network of bike routes, just a path here and there.”
A lot of groups in Little Rock support the idea behind Critical Mass, but no one really wants to claim responsibility for what may or may not happen on Friday.
Tom Ezell is the education chair for the group Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas. BACA sponsors “Critical Manners” events, which are geared more toward training inexperienced riders and acclimating motorists to seeing bikes on the road.
“I don’t look at our local events at protests as much as they are simple demonstrations and training events, both for the riders and the others we interact with. We’re simply exercising our rights under state law to use the public roads in a responsible manner. I think this comes a whole lot closer to living up to the battle cry of Critical Mass, ‘We are traffic.’ The idea of ‘share the road’ cuts both ways.”
The ride will begin at the Riverfest Amphitheater around 5:30 or 6:00 Friday evening.
“It’s not really all that organized,” CJ says. “It’s just come as you are. We’ve invited the Little Rock Roller Derby Girls to come out, we encourage people to bring their families. One wheel, two wheels, tricycles, roller skates, unicycles, whatever. It’s come one, come all.”
Look for riders on Cumberland, and heading west on Capitol all the way to Woodlawn before looping back down 4th Street and eventually back to the amphitheater. A map of the route is available at criticalmasslr.blogspot.com.